Throughout my involvement in the Scottish referendum campaign, there were several times when I was told to stay out of Scotland’s “internal affairs.” Some Nationalists and “Yes” supporters on Facebook and Twitter would say that the referendum vote had nothing to do with me and that – among others things – I should “f**k off” and pay more attention to what’s going on in the United States. Other people were more polite about it – saying that they appreciated my interest, but nonetheless still say that I ought to stay out of their referendum over their future.
Then when President Obama made his intervention in support of our closest ally to keep itself together, there were many Nats who angrily frothed at the notion of the President of the United States making his views known publicly – at one point, alongside the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron. He too was told to stay out and shut up, and even then-First Minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond reportedly was upset about the presidential intervention.
Following the referendum and up to the present, I have still found myself coming into contact with Cybernats telling me that what goes on in Scotland has nothing to do with me and that I should stop commenting and writing articles such this.
So when I came across yesterday’s article in The Herald that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had endorsed Hillary Clinton to be our next president, my first thought was: well, look who’s commenting on the internal affairs of another country. However, this was not mere commenting on what’s going in America, but openly saying who she would like to see in the White House this time next year, and breaking the diplomatic convention that politicians in one country should not directly comment on foreign elections or endorse candidates in those elections.
Yet while Sturgeon should have observed this convention (regardless of whether she was prompted by a member of the audience to which she was speaking), I tend to find nothing wrong in general with politicians, other public officials and figures, and private individuals in one country commenting on other major issues and concerns in a other country, especially one that is a close friend and ally.
Such is the case with the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom that we cannot help but to watch what goes on each other’s country and perhaps have something to say about events which may prove to be quite consequential to the nature of our relationship. It is therefore not surprising that President Obama made an intervention two years ago to keep the UK together, and that he is choosing to speak out in favor of the UK’s membership in the European Union.
On the other end, it has been David Cameron and other leading British politicians who have voiced their criticism of unspoken and controversial Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and Members of Parliament even debated whether Trump ought to have been banned from entering the United Kingdom. Indeed, when Sturgeon was asked whether she would welcome Trump to Scotland if he became president, she did not directly answer the question, but did refer to his views as “abhorrent.” In doing this, she stayed in line with what most politicians were doing – condemning Trump and speaking about the campaign in general terms – but differing by actually making an endorsement of Hillary Clinton.
Even so, she has a right to do this, and if she were a private citizen like most of us, there would be no criticism from me. For my part, it has been an interesting time to observe politics and current events unfold on both sides of the Pond, and being on Twitter and Facebook has helped me to see how many Brits and Americans see each other. From the casual social networkers to the media pundits to the political leaders, just about everyone has something to say about one another’s country and perhaps offer suggestions or thoughts on what it ought to do.
At times, this gets taken for “lecturing” – as though a person from one country or the other is looking down/talking down to people in the other country from on high. But the reality is this: you can either listen or not; take it or leave it. We have to be grown up about hearing from people who either reside in or are from other countries, and again, especially when that country is a close friend and ally which shares broadly similar customs, values, language, and heritage, and with whom there are strong military, economic, and political ties.
No one had to listen to me on Twitter and Facebook during the lead-up to the referendum; the people who have supported me and in some cases, have become my friends during and since that time, could have ignored me. The fact that they and so many others have not is an indication that they are at some level interested in what I have to say, just as I am interested in what they have to say.
In the bigger scheme of things, I seriously doubt anybody changed their minds because of me, but I was at least contented with engaging with people who took me seriously and treated me with respect along the way.
I got into the referendum and events since because of my respect, appreciation, and love for the United Kingdom and my desire to not see it dissolve and cast into the dispersing winds. I have been sincere in this desire as a private citizen because of my personal affection for the country, its people, its history and heritage, its culture, my concern for its future and where it’s going, and its relationship with my country. In the last four years, I have taken an active interest in what goes on in the UK, with a particular focus on Scotland due to the referendum and since, and now with both countries going through many of the same issues, I do what I can to keep up with the comings-and-going on both sides of the Pond.
On the other side are many new British friends who take an active interest in what goes on in the United States, not least because of the roller coaster ride that is the presidential election. Many of them have a reciprocal admiration, respect, and love for America, and as they watch developments over here, they have expressed their own concerns about the direction of the country as we go through the primary process and go about choosing a successor to President Obama.
And I welcome this because after all, we are close allies and friends; we do have a Special Relationship, so it is only natural that we pay attention to each other, for certain events occurring in one country tend to have an effect in the other. For that reason alone, it is right for us – short of public officials making transatlantic endorsements – to comment on what is going on in each other’s country. Speaking for myself as an American, it also makes sense because sometimes, it helps to hear different perspectives from our cousins across the Pond, and there are many who feel the same way in the UK with regard to the US.
To be clear, our internal affairs are ones which only we can – quite rightly – decide for ourselves at our respective ballot boxes, but with the right tone and in good faith from the perspective of friendship and a genuine interest on the issues at hand, an outside perspective can be warmly received and appreciated. We do not have to agree with each other or come around to the other person’s point of view, but listening and perhaps having a conversation or debate can make us stronger in our beliefs, better informed about the world around us, and feel a sense of mutual respect among each other.
This I believe is a good thing for everyone.
To quote Robert Burns:
O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!